Yves Oltramare Chair

The mission of the Yves Oltramare Chair for Religion and Politics in the Contemporary World is to provide a major scientific contribution to the analysis of the impact of the relationship between religion and politics, on the evolution of societies and the international system.

The Chair must contribute to the strengthening of dialogue and finding answers to the problems resulting from these relationships, notably through strong interaction with expert circles and the international players concerned (governments, non-governmental organisations, etc.) by organising an annual colloquium as well as cycles of public lectures. Since 2015, the Chair has been held by Jean-François Bayart, Professor of Anthropology and Sociology, following the death of Professor Martin Riesebrodt.

Yves Oltramare

The creation of this Chair is indebted to the encouragement and support of Yves Oltramare, who funded the Chair for ten years. A former partner of the private bank Lombard, Odier & Cie, Yves Oltramare has long been active in philanthropy, particularly in the fields of art, culture, science and humanitarian aid. In the scientific sphere, he has chaired the Louis Jeantet Foundation for Medicine (now the Louis-Jeantet Foundation) and launched the "A ciel ouvert: science et spiritualité" programme, in partnership with the Faculty of Theology at the University of Geneva. The Institute would like to express its deep gratitude to Mr. Oltramare for his support, which enables us to make a valuable contribution to the training of our students, future international players.

Jean-François Bayart

Former director of research at the Centre national de recherche scientifique (CNRS), former director of the Centre de recherches internationales at Sciences Po in Paris (1994-2000), former permanent consultant to the Centre d'analyse et de prévision of the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs (1990-2005), Jean-Jacques Rousseau Prize of the City of Geneva in 1997, Jean-François Bayart is a specialist in the historical and comparative sociology of politics, whose work has always taken into account the dimension of religion. He has held the Yves Oltramare Chair since 2015.


What is the current state of affairs of the Yves Oltramare Chair? 

At the end of my second term (September 1, 2019 - August 31, 2022) as holder of the Yves Oltramare Chair, I can congratulate myself on the fact that the Chair has emerged from the global health crisis and its intellectual and academic consequences, stronger than before.

We owe this result in large part to a team of students who have become involved in the activities of the Chair and now constitute its associate researchers: doctoral and postdoctoral students from the Geneva Graduate Institute, the University of Geneva or other establishments, as well as, for some, researchers or experts engaged in professional life. This network, based in Geneva and in various other cities as students move around – in the great historical tradition of universities since the Middle Ages – is in itself one of the major achievements of recent years. It has already contributed to the international reputation of the Chair and guarantees its future, in keeping with the initial project defined by its founder, Yves Oltramare. It is naturally destined to be renewed and expanded, in line with the iterative approach I adopted when I took up my post in September 2015. But it is already in progress. 

It will not escape you that many of the associated researchers do not work directly on religion. This is because I have chosen not to "encapsulate" religious studies in a particular field, but to integrate them into the banality and generality of understanding contemporary politics, of which faith and belief are constitutive dimensions, whether we like it or not (and we have to admit that in many "secularised" societies we don't really want them to be...). Even within religious sociology and anthropology, the evolutionary paradigm of "secularisation", "disenchantment" or – more accurately, in Max Weber's case - the "demagification" of the world (Entzauberung der Welt), which has held sway since the nineteenth century, has lost much of its appeal.

Thanks to this core group, we were able to compensate for the slowing of the pace of the Chair's public events, due to the pandemic, by launching two widely-consulted video series:

  1. Les Entretiens de la chaire Yves Oltramare  – a video library of approximately twenty titles providing in-depth looks at major issues within the scope of the Chair, thanks to the light shed upon them by the world of research.
  2. A point nommé – shorter interviews with researchers on a topical issue.

A new series, Les Doctorales de la chaire Yves Oltramare, joined the repertoire in autumn 2022. The series gives the floor to the Institute's doctoral students to share their research and help us take part in deeper reflections on the complex relations between religion and politics in the contemporary world.

Furthermore, La Lettre de la chaire Yves Oltramare, a monthly newsletter, provides information on a number of topics related to our work, including announcements of events and online publications, as well as books, articles and films. It also provides access to students' work. To receive it, simply register at chaire.yvesoltramare@graduateinstitute.ch

Despite the health hazards faced in recent years, the Chair has maintained a steady pace of public activities – its annual colloquium, public lectures, meetings on topical issues – and has even launched two new lecture cycles, "Ma religion dans la cité" and "Femmes de pouvoir religieux".

Additionally, the Chair has internationalised its activities, becoming a partner of both the European Network for the Analysis of Political Societies and the Rencontres des cinémas d'Europe d'Aubenas in France, where it moderates the Focus series ("Migration(s)" in November 2018; "L'Illusion identitaire", in November 2019; "Religion, politics and cinema", in November 2021; "Sexualités, genres, jeunesses" in November 2022). Notably, the Chair is involved in the Caravane des libertés scientifiques of the European Network for the Analysis of Political Societies, whose stages the Chair has attended in Paris (September 2021), Turin (October 2021) and Warsaw (May 2022). The Chair organised the Geneva stage, on September 30 and October 1, 2021, on the theme of "Religion and scientific freedom in the contemporary world", associating this network with its annual colloquium.

The Chair has not abandoned Switzerland, however. It participates in the activities of the Geneva Graduate Institute’s Department of Anthropology and Sociology (ANSO), to which it is attached, and has organised a round table on "Music, religion and politics in the contemporary world: rap in the service of God'' to help celebrate its anniversary on May 20, 2022. The Chair works regularly with the University of Geneva, the Cercle intercantonal d'information sur les croyances (CIC) and the Rencontres Orient-Occident du Chateau Mercier in Sierre.

In addition to its public activities, the Chair teaches three courses at the Institute: "Religion, Politics and Sexuality", "Religion and Politics in Africa" and "Historical and Comparative Sociology of the State". The Chair also contributes to the training of students in the Institute's various departments through the effective practice of research, in particular by entrusting them with the organisation of the Entretiens de la chaire Yves Oltramare, by ensuring and financing their participation in international activities, by publishing some of their academic work in its own newsletter or in external publications, by supporting them in the organisation of seminars on their own initiative, and in creating Les Doctorales de la chaire Yves Oltramare.

Over the past few years, the Chair has become a centre for research, teaching and public debate. Its questions and methodologies have inspired a number of master's and doctoral theses, both completed and in progress. It also enabled me to write the following books: L'Energie de l'État. Pour une sociologie historique et comparée du politique (La Découverte, 2022); Violence et religion en Afrique (Karthala, 2018); État et religion en Afrique (Karthala, 2018); L'Impasse national-libérale. Globalisation et repli identitaire (La Découverte, 2017); Les Fondamentalistes de l'identité. Laïcisme versus djihadisme (Karthala, 2016), as well as L'État de distorsion en Afrique de l'Ouest. Des empires à la nation (Karthala, 2019, in collaboration with lbrahima Poudiougou and Giovanni Zanoletti).

My third mandate will enable us to pursue this intellectual adventure, the need for which is made more relevant daily by international, often tragic, events. More than ever, we must avoid the pitfalls of religious over-interpretation of conflicts that are primarily social or political in nature, but also understand the irreducibility of the intrinsic logics of faith that can nourish and inspire them in every sense of the word. It is to this delicate exercise that we shall continue to dedicate ourselves over the coming years, free from dogmatism, with scrupulous respect for the plurality of convictions and commitments, all without depriving ourselves of the creative force of the scientific imagination. This is the only way to get off the beaten track of prejudice and misleading explanations. For, let's not forget, the researcher prevents thinking (and, perhaps, believing?) in circles.

Jean-François Bayart 
Professeur of Anthropology & Sociology, Geneva Graduate Institute
Yves Oltramare Chair for Religion and Politics in the Contemporary World

Upcoming events

The Yves Oltramare Chair Online

  • Les Entretiens de la chaire Yves Oltramare : Religion et politique, itinéraires de recherche
  • A Point nommé: Vingt minutes avec un(e) spécialiste sur une question d'actualité
  • Les Doctorales de la chaire Yves Oltramare : Des chercheurs associé(e)s de la Chaire exposent leur travail doctoral

Watch the PLAYLIST

Researchers Associated to the Yves Oltramare Chair

The Yves Oltramare Chair for Religion and Politics in the Contemporary World relies on an informal network of associated researchers.
They are chosen by the Chair team for a two-year term, renewable by mutual consensus, and on the recommendation of one of its members.
Associate researchers develop personal research related to the specialisations of the Chair, but do so independently.
They participate in the development and conduct of the Chair's activities, in particular its annual colloquium, its public lectures, its Entretiens and A Point nommé series, the publication of its monthly newsletter, and any other activities it may deem useful to develop.
Associated researchers may be chosen from amongst master and doctoral students and postdoctoral fellows, particularly in order to contribute to their training through practical and scientific activities of various kinds, and beyond, on the proposal of the Chair holder or a member of the network, and on the basis of a broad consensus. They may remain so after entering professional academic life.

Associated researchers are not remunerated.

"Religion et politique dans le monde contemporain"

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